Paris City Archives collecting artefacts in front of the Bataclan concert hall, 37 boulevard Voltaire, December 10 2015
Photo credit: Patrice Clavier/ Archives de Paris
In the aftermath of the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, people paid tribute to the victims by bringing to the sites flowers, notes, candles, paintings – all sorts of offerings forming spontaneous memorials. Sarah Gensburger was one of the sociologists who documented their evolution, while the Paris Archives collected their contents. Similarly, Nora Philippe filmed the Women’s March on Washington D.C. in 2017 and, more tellingly, captured on film the morning after, when thousands of signs and testimonies of the historical moment were collected by passers-by for posterity or janitors for the garbage trucks. More recently, during the assault on the Capitol, while trespassers inside were taking selfies to capture the moment, outside, a few hours later, the Library of Congress was gathering abandoned signs on the Mall.
How do you tell the story of these ephemeral, collective “monuments”? What traces do they leave, and what duty do we have to collect and preserve traces of an historical moment? Are these fragments of memory a new way of writing a “people’s history,” distinct from traditional stone and marble monuments? How do these paper memorials enable us to honor the victims of today, while writing history for the citizens of tomorrow?